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Most Lankans sleepwalking into cyber-attacks ignoring the obvious

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of Sri Lanka’s small and medium scale enterprises (SME) faced regular cyber-attacks but there was minimal societal attention given to the threat, Cyber Security Advisor, Asela Waidyalankara said on Wednesday, addressing a webinar organised by the Centre for Journalism and Education on cyber security and Sri Lankan media.

Waidyalankara said that the media had an important role to play in educating the people and keeping the policy makers alert to the threats posed by cyber security breaches to individuals and to the nation.

“There are many cyber attacks, especially on SMEs and government institutions. SMEs are in danger because they do not have the capital to invest in new technology. On the other hand, diaspora groups attack government websites targeting Independence Day and Victory Day. There is some media hype when these attacks happen but we soon forget this and each year, as scheduled these attacks happen and we are caught off guard,” he said.

Sri Lanka was behind many countries on cyber security alertness and the Computer Crimes Act, the only existing law on cybercrimes was outdated and was not effective in dealing with new threats posed, Waidyalankara added.

Meanwhile, science writer Nalaka Gunawardene said that close to half the population was now using the Internet and that it was a rapid increase from 2015. The trend was exacerbated since COVID-19 and Sri Lanka should bolster internet security as digitalization increased.

“People are going digital. Public, private and media institutions are going digital. There are a lot of web-only media. If we look at media, the main focus is getting more hits and search engine optimisation to achieve this goal. However, little has been done to assure the safety of the digital assets. There has been little staff training and smaller media organisations hardly take any cyber security precautions,” he said.

Gunawardene said that between 2018 and 2019 an audit was conducted on the digital security awareness of Sri Lankan journalists, in Colombo and at the provincial level. During the research it was found that most journalists did not follow the most basic digital security protocols. That posed a great threat to their personal safety as well as the company’s, he said.

“Most journalists share their Google, Facebook or computer passwords with others. We have looked at small digital media offices and everyone in the office knows each other’s Gmail passwords. Email and Wi-Fi password are on a white board that can be seen by anyone that comes to the office. This is not something only some journalists do. A lot of people think it’s okay to share digital passwords with friends. But what happens if the friendship ends? There are many cases of angry people hijacking their former friend’s accounts. This is seen among couples too. They share Facebook and Google passwords and when they break up, there are many unpleasant experiences,” he said.

Manik Gunawardana, founder of Media Horizon Company that provides firewalls to many digital media organisations said that each year Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team (SLCERT) received hundreds of complaints from the above mentioned categories. “SLCERT’s mission is national and it’s there to react to attacks and by proactively strengthening defences against potential attacks. However, as complaints lodged by individuals who are facing digital security threats by former friends and lovers skyrocket, SLCERT has to allocate some of its limited resources into solving those”, Manik Gunawardana said.

Waidyalankara also says that there has been a 300% increase in Facebook related complaints received by SLCERT in the last few years. He adds that he is surprised that a lot of young couples share their personal as well as official passwords with their lovers.

“There have been many occasions where people share their company passwords with their boyfriend or girlfriend and when they break up, often the other party uses these passwords to cause trouble. I have seen this when I have been hired to look at various cyber security breaches. When I investigate the issue, I find that these attacks are not done by hackers but by angry exes. I would like to advise people to think of your digital passwords as your toothbrush. Don’t share them and change them periodically,” he said.

The panelists agreed that a lot of Sri Lankans pay very little attention to following basic cyber security protocols. Often employees think cyber security is the sole purview of the IT Department. However, as an increasing number of people are working from home, time has come for everyone to learn about cyber security.

Nalaka Gunawardene said that people did not need to study computer science for their university degrees to learn about and use effectively digital safety. “It’s like driving. You may not be a mechanic but you are expected to know the basics. You know how to read your dashboard. You don’t go to the mechanic when petrol or diesel runs out. This is the same with cyber security,” he said.

Waidyalankara also said that with COVID-19, millions of children were now using smart devices and the internet. However, no one had taught them about the basic security steps needed to protect themselves online.

“In developed countries there are books for children to teach them about cyber security because they understand the threats children face. However, in Sri Lanka we hardly pay attention to this. In the future the biggest threats faced by our children will be digital. We have to prepare them to face these threats,” he said.



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Self-Employed Traders petition SC over govt. favouring liquor dealers

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By A.J.A Abeynayake

The Supreme Court has decided take up, on 04 Oct. for hearing a petition filed by the Association of Self-Employed Traders against the opening of liquor stores during the current lockdown.

 The traders have requested the apex court to order the government to allow members of their union to engage in business activities since the liquor stores had been allowed to reopen during the lockdown.

The petition was taken up before a three-judge bench comprising justices L. T. B. Dehideniya, Shiran Gooneratne and Janak de Silva, yesterday.

 The State Counsel appearing for the respondents said he had received the relevant documents pertaining to the case only last Friday evening. Therefore, the State Counsel requested the court to give him time to seek advice from the respondents who were many.

Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva, appearing for the petitioner at the time, said about 7,000 members of his client union had lost their livelihoods due to the decision by the respondents.

Therefore, Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva requested the court to give an early date for considering the petition.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court decided to take up the petition for consideration on 04 Oct and directed the lawyers of the petitioners to take steps to send notice to the respondents before that date.

The petition was filed by the President of the United National Self-Employed Trade Association G.I. Charles, its Vice President P.G.B. Nissanka, and Secretary Krishan Marambage.

The petition names 47 respondents, including the Director General of Health Services, the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of Excise.

The petitioners allege that under the quarantine law, the Director General of Health Services, who is the competent authority, issued a notice on Aug 20 prohibiting the opening of liquor stores.

The petitioners point out that steps were taken to open liquor stores countrywide contrary to the regulations of the Health Authority.

The Director General of Health Services, the Commissioner General of Excise and the Inspector General of Police have stated that they have not allowed the reopening of liquor stores.

The petitioners have also requested the Supreme Court to issue an order to the respondents to allow the members of their association to engage in business activities as the liquor stores are allowed to remain open.

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Lankan born newly elected Norwegian MP Gunaratnam calls for investments here

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Newly elected Norwegian Labour Party MP, Lankan born Kamzy Gunaratnam says she will ask the new Norwegian government to continue engagement with the country of her birth.

 Speaking at a virtual media conference on Sunday night, Gunaratnam said that she does not believe that boycotting Sri Lanka is the way forward.

“I don’t believe in boycott. There needs to be investments. Only that will ensure employment,” she said.

Gunaratnam said that she is also prepared to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, if invited, for talks.

She said that Norway must continue to assist Sri Lanka through trade, education and in other ways.

Gunaratnam said that she will also discuss with her party and the new Norwegian Foreign Minister, as well as the Norwegian Ambassador in Sri Lanka and see how best Norway can assist the country.

Gunaratnam said that Sri Lankans must also decide the best solution for Sri Lanka and not any foreign country. She said that Sri Lanka must not wait for foreign pressure to work on a solution.

The newly elected Norwegian MP also said that minority rights in Sri Lanka must be protected.

As a Norwegian MP she said that her main focus in the Norwegian Parliament will be to push for equality in Norway.

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Going to IMF best solution, says Ranil

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UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe insists that a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is necessary to mitigate impact of the growing debt repayment crisis; homegrown solutions are not effective.

“Unlike in the past, Sri Lanka’s debt problem has increased at a time when there is a global debt problem. This makes the situation more challenging and complex. Sri Lanka is a highly import-dependent economy,” Wickremesinghe said during a panel discussion, organised by the International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka on Saturday.

The UNP leader said that the government shouldn’t sell state assets to ease off the shortage of foreign exchange to have breakfast but reinvest those proceeds back in the economy. “Going to the IMF is the best solution,” Wickremesinghe said.

With reference to homegrown solutions, he referred to the mess caused by the government in promoting Dhammika peniya as one of the failed measures earlier on to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former Prime Minister said that Sri Lanka should use the current situation to forge ahead with structural and public sector reforms which were postponed due to political considerations in the past.

The former PM suggested that the re-opening of the country be delayed till mid-October.

In responding to the issue of debt management in Sri Lanka, the UNP leader said that the most pressing concern is addressing the dwindling foreign exchange reserves of the country.

He explained that the regional foreign exchange reserves were projected to increase over the course of the year, however, Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves were on a downward trend.

He also said that economic recovery based on a resurgence of the tourism industry would be uncertain, and until airline ticket prices were reduced it was unlikely that tourist arrivals would increase significantly.

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